Commentary: Indigenous Peoples Day in OKC

Commentary: Indigenous Peoples Day in OKC
Gil Mitchell

When the City Council of Okla-humma City failed to pass the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution at its Oct. 13 meeting, it didn’t just fail to bring justice to their Native American citizens; it failed to listen to the voice of the people.

Twenty-seven members of our community who represented a variety of ethnicities, organizations and nations came together to ask our council members to honor indigenous people and acknowledge the true legacy of Columbus and the harm his legacy causes. They spoke with eloquence about accurate history, psychological impact, possible city revenue, educational impact and contributions made by native people, with an overarching message that none of us can help what has happened in the past but what matters is how we treat each other now. The feeling of goodness and unity was palpable. It was enough to make the most cynical a believer in the power of a united community.

Councilman Pete White and Ed Shadid added to our sentiment by saying that we weren’t trying to rewrite history. Instead, we want it to accurately reflect what took place. They suggested that justice shouldn’t have to wait for leadership to get on board.

Without any acknowledgement from other council members, the vote was called and Mayor Mick Cornett announced the motion failed. I must mention that he didn’t skip a beat and was on to the next agenda item without a word to us. Not one word.

Their offices were flooded with calls and letters from the community in support of Indigenous Peoples Day, and I witnessed the outpouring of support in the meeting without one single voice to the contrary. So I ask you, what would possess the Columbus Five — Cornett and council members James Greiner, Mark Stonecipher, Larry McAtee and most disappointing of all, Meg Salyer — to ignore ethics and the voice of the people?

I have many theories. The one that reoccurs to me most is probably the most difficult to change. How can we expect the Columbus Five to understand us if they don’t have much interaction with communities of color? One would hope that our elected leaders have the ability to see past their own life experiences and have the heart to serve our entire community, regardless of skin color, but sometimes that’s not what happens.

As is always the case, good things come out of disappointing circumstances. Our community rallied, new alliances were made, a conversation was started, social justice fires were ignited and native people united again!

We must use this momentum to stay organized in our efforts. If this leadership won’t help us, we must change the leadership. We must insist that our family is registered to vote.

We must keep and distribute a list of elected leaders who pass laws that harm or help our people and hold them accountable at the polls. Leaders in our communities of color must step up and run for office. We must support each other in those efforts.

And most importantly, we must vote and work in solidarity. #ipdokc

Sarah Adams-Cornell is a member of the Choctaw Nation, University of Oklahoma activist in residence, OK Choctaw Tribal Alliance board member and OKC Public School Native American Student Services Parent Action Committee vice chairman.

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